ESPN's redesign reflects changing consumer habits

Chad Millman, editor-in-chief of ESPN, speaks to Kathleen Treganowan about the sports media outlet's Web redesign and its efforts to cultivate a captive audience in a crowded market

ESPN's redesign reflects changing consumer habits

Chad Millman
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What was the impetus for the redesign?
We did it because the way people use the Web in all its forms – whether on their laptop PC, tablet, or phone – has changed dramatically since the last time the site was redesigned [six years ago], and the things that are important to people are rapidly changing.

We had a lot of priorities around personalization, which are now served by the redesign. The site is much more in the moment, both from a singular feed that is providing the stories that are the most relevant from a user tracking perspective, as well as from the Now feed, which carries information and context for the stories in a very bite-sized way.  We wanted to capture the best information and feed it to users in the best possible way.

Tell me more about the Now feed.
The emphasis is being put on as real time, in the moment, and in the conversation as possible. You’re getting updates and context for minute-to-minute action.

When the NBA trade deadline was happening, you were getting updates within seconds after a trade had happened. You were receiving the relevant information pulled from everywhere on the Web, especially within the ESPN universe – whether it was a graphic on television, a story about a particular player, or the latest analysis from our in-house experts and other well-known experts within the NBA sphere.

Nobody watches a game now without sitting next to or holding their phone, tablet device, or laptop following what’s happening and what their sports fan friends are saying. Now is feeding that and contextualizing what people are seeing.

It is making people feel like they are connected to a broader universe of fans.

Has there been any negative feedback on the redesign from users?
Most of the negative comments came early on and were a function of people just not being huge fans of change and not being able to find things in places where they used to be. After people got through the transition period and we were able to deliver what they were looking for in ways we were not before, they got over it pretty quickly.

Who is your reader for the magazine?
ESPN The Magazine has the youngest demographic within the ESPN universe and one of the youngest magazine audiences out there, appealing specifically to ages 18 to 24.

There is a certain tone, spirit, and sensibility in what we cover and how we cover it, which since we started in 1998 has always focused on capturing that younger audience.

Do you worry about your special ESPN Body Issue covers being too sexy or attracting negative attention?
No, I don’t ever worry about the covers being too sexy. The photographers who shoot for the Body Issue have done it for a while, and our photo team and editorial team that choose the subjects know what we’re trying to do with the images.

We’re pretty careful about how we present people when it comes to the Body Issue because it is supposed to be about strength and whatever way the athletes want to present that particular strength. 

[Some] people are always going to have issues with nudity and we respect that, but it’s not something we are concerned about.

Tell us about ESPN’s presence on Snapchat.
Conversation is the fundamental baseline for a lot of the content we do.

The team of people that work on our Snapchat presence are leveraging the best moments in sports they think are going to resonate and inform people on everything they need to know, from a conversation perspective. We want to make sure we are giving people what they need to be informed on and what the sport conversation is.

What is the best way for PR professionals to pitch you a story for the magazine or website?
Communications practitioners need to truly understand what we like to cover on the Web and in print. I often get a lot of random pitches that are clearly past pitches from people who definitely do not spend a lot of time reading ESPN – the website or the magazine, and it becomes very clear they don’t think about how we like to cover things.

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